media & PR

What's the role of a newspaper?

C.P.Scott“Comment is free, but facts are sacred” – so famously wrote the (Manchester) Guardian editor and sometime Liberal MP CP Scott.

The words were penned for an article he wrote in 1921 to mark the paper’s centenary and are frequently quoted in debates about journalistic standards.

However, the full piece includes much more than the oft-repeated quote, including this passage from CP Scott on the role of a newspaper. Like the quote, it too has many contemporary echoes:

A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But it is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community; it may affect even wider destinies. It is, in its way, an instrument of government. It plays on the minds and consciences of men. It may educate, stimulate, assist, or it may do the opposite. It has, therefore, a moral as well as a material existence, and its character and influence are in the main determined by the balance of these two forces. It may make profit or power its first object, or it may conceive itself as fulfilling a higher and more exacting function.

The Druid
The Druid

Usually seems these days like a newspapers primary function is to maximise circulation. And I guess that is a function of the business. But I think newspapers have become victims of the free market, as with everything else. They compete for readership and so become increasingly sensationalist and / or polarised in their views, in order to distinguish themselves and make themselves heard. Its role as the thoughtful, rational interpreter has been squeezed, and now it is mainly intended to be a standard bearer of a pre-determined position / point of view, preferably one that can wittily deconstruct the opposing point of view on any given topic.


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